11/22/63 (2011)

by Stephen King
If you’ve heard that Stephen King is a good writer but you don’t have the stomach for his horror fiction, you might want to try the speculative fiction novel 11/22/63. The title is, of course, the date on which John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Narrator Jake Epping is an English teacher in small-town Maine. The dying owner of a local diner informs Jake that his backroom contains a time portal to 1958. The restaurateur won’t live long enough to travel back to stop JFK’s assassination, so he wants Jake to complete the mission. 

Jake first tries a trial run, preventing a man from slaying most of his family. He then installs himself in a town outside Dallas. He assumes a normal life under a pseudonym, teaching school and falling in love, while also spying on Lee Harvey Oswald. Jake has to make sure that he is stalking the right man, which allows King to detail Oswald’s interactions and answer those who believe there was a conspiracy behind Kennedy’s killing. Jake succeeds in stopping the assassination but finds that the consequences of changing history are not bearable.

11/22/63 is a book that asks serious questions, but it is also a fun read because King immerses us in period details of the late 1950s and early 1960s — the clothing, the music, the movies, the food, the automobiles, the prices. It is intriguing to wonder how we would do if, like Jake, we had to keep ourselves from disclosing anything about the post-1963 world. On one trip back, for instance, Jake forgets that he still has his cellphone with him and has to throw it into a pond.

King said the idea for the book came to him in 1971 before he’d published his first novel. He thought he wasn’t up to the task of historical fiction then and put it aside. Many years later, he revived the book, thinking that the story could appeal to “an audience who’s not my ordinary audience.” When 11/22/63 was finally published in 2011, it turned out to be King’s biggest bestseller in more than a decade.



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